Rural county fire detected, reported from space satellite

LINCOLNVILLE – Sunday afternoon, firefighters responded to a 600-acre wildland fire near Lincolnville. 

Chance Hayes, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service Wichita, spotted the fire using satellite thermal imagery on Sunday. Hayes was monitoring satellite feeds from the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service Group – a subsidiary of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. 

“Once we recognize a hotspot, we can use our software to drop a pin on that location. That will send out a text to all the individuals in that county that want to be notified of a possible wildfire,” he said. 

Hayes said from the time a hot spot is detected and pinned by data-watchers to the time an alert goes out is typically one to two minutes. Hayes said data-watchers can drop pins on potential fires with an accuracy of just a quarter-mile from a wildfire. 

Pins also come with accompanying up-to-the-minute weather data, which is pushed to responders phones. 

Hayes said satellite imagery can encompass all of the lower 48 states, but be honed in to focus on a single state. The Wichita office’s territory covers 26 counties from the Nebraska to Oklahoma borders. 

“We’re not going to be able to see someone burning trash out back, but if we have grassland starting to burn, we will probably be able to see it down to a few acres,” he said. Hayes and his team have sent out 100 to 200 hot spot notifications each year since the program was adopted in 2019. 

Randy Frank, Emergency Management Director for Marion County said five departments were deployed to contain the fire. 

Lester Kaiser, Lincoln Fire Chief was command on scene Sunday afternoon with departments from Lincolnville, Marion, Lost Springs, Florence and Ramona. Frank said two dozen firefighters and 16 vehicles were on scene for the fire. 

No structures or livestock were at risk or lost during the fire. No injuries were reported. 

Frank said it took crews “a couple of hours” to contain and extinguish the fire. Kaiser said the cause of the fire has yet to be determined. 

Frank said zones were created at Sunday’s fire to ensure crews were working efficiently “and not crisscrossing and had a more dedicated fire approach.” 

Crews created a 20-foot perimeter around the burn to contain the fire. Kaiser said a challenge residents may not be aware of are cow patties, which tend to smolder for long periods of time. 

“Basically, those are always a pain. Once the fire is out, we drive the perimeter of the fire making sure its cold and wet. [Sunday] with the wind, we were pushing cold and wet 10 to 20 feet in,” said Kaiser. 

With rural fires, water supply is always a challenge. Kaiser said three tanker trucks were rotated through the scene to supply attack apparatuses with sufficient water. 

As Emergency Management Director, Frank was in contact with larger state and national agencies with the Forest Service and Kansas Emergency Management on standby with more water and aerial support. 

Kaiser said, “weather and terrain” are almost always the greatest challenges with wild land fires. 

“There were some fences, but we were able to find gates, so we didn’t have to cut them. When you’re on ground you’re not familiar with, it can be difficult to navigate gullies and drop-offs.” 

“Luckily it was daylight and it was easy to see danger spots,” Kaiser said. 

When attacking Sunday’s fire, Kaiser said crews worked the fire line, extinguishing flames along the perimeter of the fire, rather than creating fire breaks or back-burning. 

Sunday’s fire was not unusual for Marion County crews. 

“In our area, between 300 and 600 acres are somewhat average, maybe a little large; it’s not what I would classify as a large fire,” said Kaiser. 

Kaiser said he anticipates a potentially heavy year for wild land fires after briefings from the Forest Service and online notifications 

“They’re looking at a heavy fire year based on weather and drought. We have a heavy fuel load for this year. So far in our area it hasn’t been bad. We’ve had several grass fires in and around the county. It’s not bad by any means, yet. What they’re projecting, it could be a busy year,” he said. 

However, with coordinated interagency cooperation and gear specifically design to tackle wild land fires, Kaiser said crews were equipped to deal with fires. Kaiser emphasized the community be proactive in calling in controlled burns and calling for help quickly if a fire gets out of control. 

“The majority – 90 percent – of people call them in like they’re supposed to and report them. Most of them have what they need to control what they’re doing; and if it does get out of hand are on the ball about getting help,” said Kaiser.